Today: Jun 17, 2024

Preview of the coming football season (NFC)

Bobby MartinezSports Writer

NEW HAVEN — Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Adrian Peterson were the talk of the NFC conference last season. RGIII did battle a few injuries throughout the season but still managed to lead his team to their first division title since 1999. Kaepernick on the other hand, blossomed right before your eyes bringing his team to a Super Bowl appearance.

Peterson was a few yards away from breaking the season all-time rushing record held by Eric Dickerson (2,105). Finally, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch played as if they were the modern day Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander duo.

Colin Kaepernick took over a 49ers team that looked as if Alex Smith was going to be the quarterback for years to come. Due to an unfortunate neck injury Smith suffered, the starting quarterback position was passed down to Kaepernick.

Looking at the NFC west, the St. Louis Rams, have the talent to compete for division title race with the 49ers, Cardinals, and Seahawks. I say this because the talent they provided on the offensive side of the ball was also on the defensive side of the ball. Sam Bradford has an explosive receiving core which includes rookies, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who both torched defenses while playing for West Virginia University.

During the offseason, St.Louis acquired offensive lineman, Jake Long, from Miami. Returning this year is cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Cortland Finnegan, and rookie Alec Ogletree.

What makes this division so exciting is the mini rivalry brewing between the 49ers and Seahawks. Both teams are stacked on both sides of the ball. The 49ers added wide receiver Anquan Boldin, during the offseason who will be there main threat until Michael Crabtree is done rehabbing his torn achilles. Kaepernick’s style of play shook up defenses week in and week out, which made it hard for defense coaches to really prepare to shut him down.

As for the Seahawks, Wilson fits perfectly under head coach Pete Carrol’s system. Last season he didn’t play like rookie quarterback. Wilson threw for 3,118 yards and connected with his receivers for an impressive 26 six touchdowns with just 10 interceptions.

Percy Harvin who was going to be a main target for Wilson, could miss the entire season with hip surgery. Unlike RGIII and Andrew Luck, Wilson led his team to the NFC championship game but fell short to the 49ers. This season look forward to a lot of entertainment coming from this division.

The final team in this division is the Arizona Cardinals. A major issue since the departure of Kurt Warner was – who was going to take over at quarterback? Receiving Carson Palmer in the offseason from the Oakland Raiders makes the Cardinals much better than last season. There defense is what I think will stand out.

Another high coveted division is the NFC south which is the home of the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As I look at this division, my eye is set on Drew Brees and Sean Payton’s reunion. Payton was suspended for the full 2012 season due to the high profiled bounty program.

The Saints didn’t look like a Saints team we are all used to seeing.  Brees tied Tony Romo last season for most interceptions last season with 19. On a positive note, Brees did manage to lead the league in passing yards and touchdowns. Hopefully with Payton back the Saints can get back to becoming a Super Bowl contender again.

The Carolina Panthers are in a rebuilding process so an expectation this season is just win as much games and build from that. Cam Newton did have a decent year last year but it seems as if the offense relied too much on him. Newton threw for 3,869 yards and had 19 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

But what the issue is in this offense is their running game. Panthers have a deep one two punch with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who both have been terrible since Newton’s arrival.

Williams rushed for a terrible 737 yards and reached the end zone only five times. Newton on the other hand rushed for 741 yards and scored eight times. If the Panthers want to become contenders they must fix their running game and take pressure off Newton.

Both the Bucs and Falcons can potentially be fighting for the division title. Both are loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball. The Bucs have Vincent Jackson who caught eight touchdowns last season but had 1385 receiving yards. Also, Mike Williams will be on the other side of the field trying to have his first 1,000 yard season falling short by four yards last season.

Bucs running back Doug Martin, rushed for 1,454 yards last season as a rookie. Yes, Martin was just a rookie last season believe it or not. The Bucs will might rely on Martin heavily this season with either play actions plays to open up receivers or ground and pound run game to weaken our defenses.

A big acquisition this offseason for the Bucs was former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis who had knee surgery last season, will be looking for a fresh start this season on a Bucs defense that ranked 29th overall last season.

Matt Ryan has been arguably the best quarterback overall during the season since being drafted from Boston College in 2008. Ryan since 2008, has a record of 43-19 resulting into a .694 winning percentage. But what has hurt Ryan in becoming an actual elite quarterback, going 1-4 in the playoffs.

The Falcons this season on paper look better than a year ago especially with the addition of former Ram Steven Jackson. Also, Osi Umenyiora decided to leave the Giants and become a part Falcons defense that ranked 24th last season. But the inconsistency of the Falcons over the past playoffs chances has to improve.

Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson put a on a clinic last year at their respective position. Peterson literally put the Minnesota Vikings on his back and into the playoffs. The Vikings quarterback position will be very entertaining to watch this year. Matt Cassel is looking to revamp his career after a nightmare took place in Kansas City over the past few seasons.

Christian Ponder did have a good season last season despite 75 percent of their offense did come through Peterson. This offseason the Vikings did land a top shelf receiver in former Packer Greg Jennings. Let’s see if Peterson can break Dickerson’s season rushing record this year.

The Green Bay Packers have not had success over the past seasons in the playoffs despite having good records. With an early exit in the playoffs against the Vikings, Aaron Rodgers now has Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb at receiver alongside Jermichael finley at tight end.

What I would like to see is how good rookie Eddie Lacy will do this season. Lacy is a talented back that scored 17 touchdowns last season and rushed for 1322 yards. If Lacy can blossom, expect the Packers to be one of the best teams overall.

Calvin Johnson broke the all-time season receiving record held by Jerry Rice in 1995 with a crazy 1,964 yards. But what’s impressive about this record is not the yards, Johnson only needed 122 receptions to reach 1964 which was an average of 16 yards a catch.

This offense will be the most exciting to watch with Reggie Bush at the running back position. In order for the Lions to make the playoffs, Stafford has to stay healthy and play much smarter with the game on the line.

Chicago on the other hand had an almost perfect first half last season winning seven of eight games heading into week 10. Then they collapsed dramatically losing five of eight games which resulted into the firing of Lovie Smith. New head coach Marc Trestman, has an offense and defense that is worthy of becoming a super bowl contender if Jay Cutler can stay healthy unlike last year.

Last but not least, one of the most talked about divisions in all of the NFL, the NFC east. With the Eagles new head coach Chip Kelly, his decision on who is going to lead the Eagles at quarterback is not set in stone yet.

Also, a major loss at the wide receiver position in Jeremy Maclin, who tore his ACL, will not play this year.  Hopefully Riley Cooper and Desean Jackson can help out an Eagles offense who was ranked 15th last season. What needs to be seen this season is how the offensive line will hold this season. Last year both Eagles quarterbacks Vick and Nick Foles were sacked a combined 48 times.

RGIII is coming off a season in which he won offensive rookie of the year and led the Redskins to their first division title since 1999. But the ending of the season heading into the playoffs ended on a bad note. RGIII and head coach Mike Shanahan raised controversy regarding the decision of letting RGIII back in the game against the Seahawks when he tweaked his knee.

Later during the game RGIII dropped back for a pass and slid in an awkward position which costed RGIII to receive off season knee surgery. Last season the Redskins led the league in rushing mainly because of Alfred Morris. Morris Rushed for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Hopefully the Redskins can have a healthy RGIII this season if they plan on making a super bowl run.

As for the New York Giants, over the past seasons they never were consistent. One year they would win a Super Bowl, next they wouldn’t even make the playoffs. It’s a pattern with them but this is one team you can never count out.

Eli Manning will be entering his 10th season as the Giants quarterback. Manning over the past two seasons has a combined 12 game winning drives. Re-signing wide receiver Victor Cruz was big for Manning this season because his other target Hakeem Nix battled injuries all last year.

Cruz last season had 1,092 receiving yards alongside 10 touchdowns. Cruz presence on the field demanded a lot of double coverage from defenses week in and week out. This helps other receiver to become open for Manning to do what he does best and that is get everybody involved on the offense.

Also, running back Ahmad Bradshaw chose to sign with the Colts this offseason after rushing for 1015 yards and scoring six touchdowns last season. Losing Bradshaw might hurt the Giants this year or may not. Giants have a lot of expectations in their young stud running back David Wilson.

Finally, the Dallas Cowboys have always struggled when it came to playoff time. Since 2000, the Cowboys have only won one playoff game which was in 2009 against the Eagles. This year a lot of eyes will be on the Cowboys due to their lack of wins based on the talent they have.

The Cowboys extended their contract with quarterback Tony Romo during the offseason. Last season Romo threw 19 interceptions which was tied for a league high with Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Wide receiver Dez Bryant played extremely well last year scoring 12 touchdowns and racking up 1382 receiving yards.

Not all is Romo’s fault at all. Dallas defense ranked 19th in the league giving up 25 points a game. Dallas offense was ranked sixth in the league with an average of 23 points a game. This season you will see a healthy Austin Miles and Jason Witten which will help Romo out a lot.

Also, middle linebacker Sean Lee will be on the field and healthy. After suffering a serious toe injury that caused him to miss 10 games last season, the Cowboys relied too much on their defensive lineman DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.  Both Ware and Spencer had a combined 22.5 sacks last season. Dallas managed to rank 31st in interceptions with just seven.

The countdown until September 5th is just around the corner. This season will include a lot of excitement with rookies and also players who no one expected to make an impact. Also, many teams have built a team that looks strong on paper. But just like Michael Jordan said “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championship.”

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